When you’re writing time travel novels, deciding where and when in history your main characters are going to travel back to can be an overwhelming decision. After all, the author can pick any time in history — that’s about twelve thousands years of human history, right there. And I’m not even considering jumping forward into the future, where you can go completely hog-wild.
Then the choice is complicated by where to send the characters. There are currently 196 countries in the world (195, if you live in the US, as the USA does not officially recognize Taiwan as a country). There have been thousands of countries, city states, kingdoms, principalities, republics and lands of united people throughout history, too.
Where do you start?
In practice, I suspect that a lot of time travel authors pick eras and places in history that they’re already a little bit familiar with, or that they’re simply interested in for whatever reason. Sometimes for very superficial reasons — I first became interested in ancient Norway because of the Vikings that emerged later (The Thirteenth Warrior, anyone?). Roman Britain is enticing because the end of that era is when King Arthur was supposed to have existed (if he did — and that’s still open to debate).
I’ve written a lot of time travel novels (click here for a list, if you’re curious), and for that reason, I’ve managed to dig into just about every era that is of interest to me.
So, when it came to the next time travel novel, my list of “new” times and places had grown a lot shorter.
The Kiss Across Time series has natural limitations (laws, if you prefer) built into the time travel. Characters can only go back into the hero’s personal history. For that reason, my first two time-travel heroes, Veris and Brody, have lived for a very long time, which gave me scope to explore the historical eras that interested me. Oddly, I still haven’t got back to Arthurian Britain in any of the books, but it wasn’t for want of trying — Kiss Across Chains was absolutely going to be a King Arthur story. It just didn’t end up that way.
Rafael is also similarly long-lived, only a hundred or so years younger than either Veris or Brody. Alexander, though, is only approaching his first millennium. (It’s ironic that I find a thousand years of history limiting!).
So when it came time to figure out the story that became Kiss Across Kingdoms, I had a set of parameters; only times one or the other hero had lived through, and only places one or the other had been. However, I’m still writing Rafe’s and Alexander’s personal histories. I knew a few facts about each — some time and place markers that had been mentioned in previous books. That left all of time in between their births and today, and every place that existed in those times.
So I started reading a lot of history books, delving into eras, reading about people of those times, looking for something, anything, that would sit up and go “hey, over here!” I just needed a starting place. A flag planted in the ground. Once I had that, I knew I would be able to build out from there and plot a story around it.
For more than a week, I was sure I was going to end up setting the book in Toledo, Spain, in the 14th century, a rare time and city where Muslims, Jews and Christians were all given complete religious freedom and acceptance–something that would appeal to Alexander’s sensibilities. There was also a library project in Toledo around that time when many of the books of the known world were translated from their Greek or Latin or Arabic, into half a dozen other common languages. It was a project that rivaled the vaults of knowledge that were held in the library at Alexandria in the first century A.D. All of that was enticing, but I couldn’t quite pin down the “yes!” factor.
So I kept roving around history, looking for it.
And found it in the most unexpected place: Anglo-Saxon England.
I like medieval Britain. It’s got all that chivalry and the dresses and knights, castles and civil wars, and the crusades and derring-do going on. But Anglo-Saxon England was prior to the start of the medieval period (which is technically 1099, the Battle of Hastings, when Alfred the Great defeated Harold, King of England, and the Normans swept across the channel to set up their castles). I know the basic shape of Anglo Saxon England. It’s sandwiched between the Dark Ages, when Arthur ruled, and the medieval period, when chivalry ruled — you tend to pick up references no matter how much you try to ignore it.
This time, I didn’t ignore it. I delved a bit deeper, still waiting for something to bite me. And came across a two line reference to a queen, Aethelfreda, Lady of Mercia, who not only helped her husband king rule Mercia, but when he died, she took over the running of the place. She was instrumental in her brother, the High King of England, successfully holding the Vikings at bay, and keeping the Welsh kingdoms on their borders placated, too.
Such a strong woman in such ancient times was staggering.
Then I realized that this was the time when Powys, the ancient Welsh kingdom, was at its most powerful, too…and it was right next door to Mercia.
Bingo. There was my marker. Two kingdoms bordering each other, two leaders; and one of them a woman, too!
The story formed around those central facts and became Kiss Across Kingdoms, very quickly after that.
Kiss Across Kingdoms is officially released on April 21, 2016, but you can get it now on pre-order. Click here for details.
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